U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced, following their tireless advocacy, $14 million in federal funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to combat Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases and the Kay Hagan Tick Act were included in the final, soon-to-pass bipartisan spending package for Fiscal Year 2020. The $14 million in funding amounts to a $2 million increase over last year’s level. Last year, a Schumer-backed amendment in the must-pass Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill secured the first increase in CDC Lyme disease funding in five years. The bipartisan Kay Hagan Tick Act, named in honor of the late Senator Kay Hagan who recently passed away due to complications from Powassan virus, a rare tick-borne disease, is co-sponsored by both Schumer and Gillibrand and complements the CDC funding. The senators explained that since New York remains the #1 target for tick-related disease in the United States, they went back to the mat to secure additional funding for the critical CDC program this year and fight for adoption of the Kay Hagan Tick Act.
“Upstate New York has been feeling the brutal bite of Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases for years now, and thankfully this sorely-needed increase in CDC funding and the Kay Hagan Tick Act, combined, will give us the resources we need to strike back,” said Senator Schumer. “New Yorkers and their children shouldn’t have to worry that spending time outside in their backyards will leave them with a debilitating ailment like Lyme disease, and this funding will help prevent that. I was proud to lead the charge in securing the crucial funding and imperative legislation to combat the spread of tick-borne diseases throughout New York and will keep fighting until we can stamp out these persistent diseases.”
“I am very pleased that Congress has included in the year-end budget package funding for Lyme disease and tick-borne illness research, surveillance, prevention, and outbreak response,” said Senator Gillibrand. “New Yorkers have felt the impact of tick-borne illness for years, we need to step up our efforts to protect our communities. It is particularly meaningful this year, as we lost my dear friend and colleague, former-Senator Kay Hagan to tick-borne illness just a couple of months ago. I am hopeful that with this funding we will be able to prevent other Americans from suffering from the often-devastating and life-altering impacts of tick-borne illness.”
Schumer and Gillibrand said that the increase in funding for the CDC will specifically be used to target vector-borne pathogens which cause diseases in humans. The funding will contribute to a better understanding of when, where, and how people become exposed to vector-borne pathogens, as well as boost prevention efforts related to vector-borne pathogens and mitigate potential consequences of infection. Additionally, the funding will be used to help implement vector-borne disease diagnostics, surveillance, control, and prevention programs.
The Kay Hagan Tick Act requires HHS to develop a national strategy for vector-borne diseases, including tick-borne diseases, in an effort to coordinate efforts among various government agencies. The bill also reauthorizes the Regional Centers of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease for five years at $10 million per year. Schumer and Gillibrand noted that this is especially important for New York State, as Cornell University is home to the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases. Lastly, the Kay Hagan Tick Act will allow the CDC to make grants to state, local, and tribal health departments in order to improve the ability to identify, report, prevent, and respond to vector-borne diseases and related outbreaks.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection carried by deer ticks, which can be transmitted through a bite to a human or animal. If left untreated, the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi travels through the bloodstream, manifests itself in body tissues, and causes mild or severe symptoms, depending on the case. Lyme disease begins as a rash at the location of the tick bite and then spreads to the nervous system and joints. Early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment are crucial to recovery, and appropriate antibiotic use in the early stages of Lyme disease typically results in a swift recovery. Untreated and undiagnosed Lyme disease can lead to debilitating effects on a person’s health.
Senator Schumer and Gillibrand have long fought for federal funding for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease, which have contributed to a major spike in cases across New York State. Last year, Schumer fought to secure over a 12% increase in CDC Lyme disease funding, for a total of $12 million, which was the first increase of its kind in 5 years. In 2018, during an in-person meeting with CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, Schumer received a firm commitment from the director that he would be working to address Lyme disease in New York State. Schumer and Gillibrand also helped secure a $2 billion increase in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding last year, which can be used to expand and build upon existing NIH-funded Lyme disease research that is already occurring at New York institutions, such as Stony Brook, Columbia University, in the SUNY system, and at Hunter College. Schumer has traveled throughout New York State advocating for increased funding to fight tick-borne diseases and will continue to advocate for these funds for New Yorkers.